This paper offers a theoretical exploration on the value of harnessing ‘people with lived experience of mental health issues’ as an identity category to promote mental health social justice change. I engage longstanding feminist, postcolonial, and post-structural philosophical debates that have queried the possibilities, limits, and conditions of drawing on experience as expertise, and apply these debates to show what can happen when we rely on strategic essentialism under the rubric of ‘lived experience’ to authorize our power. By doing so, I attend to how essentialized notions of lived experience risk effacing the material, ontological and epistemological differences among us that matter, and what such universalism can produce when we engage in research and knowledge production as ‘people with lived experience.’